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In Pakistan, This Uber-Like Service Works Without A Smartphone And Calls You A Rickshaw

Oddjobber is bringing the gig economy to feature phones in the developing world, allowing people who do all kinds of service and manual labor to bid for work.

[Image: Autorickshaw, Pakistan via Wikipedia]

If you're a talented web designer from, say, Bangalore, there are plenty of places online where you can pick up work. The "gig economy" is good for you, because you can sell your skills in markets offering higher prices, like the U.S. The same isn't necessarily true for carpenters or gardeners, at least not in places like Pakistan. They can't arbitrage their worth abroad, and the Internet isn't really set up to their benefit.

Adnan Khawaja, an entrepreneur from Lahore, is a big fan of oDesk, a freelance platform that helps people he knows. But he wondered if he could build something for people who aren't web-savvy and don't have smartphones. What he came up with is Oddjobber, which caters to the needs of rickshaw drivers and manual workers.

"The idea was inspired by how low-income workers struggle to meet their basic needs on a daily basis," he says. "The problem is that there is a lot of inefficiency. People waste a lot of time looking for work, and they don't have access to technology."

It's a straightforward concept. Someone needing a rickshaw goes to the Oddjobber site (soon they'll be a app as well) and says where they want to go. Nearby drivers get a text or automated voice alert, and they respond by bidding for the work. The passenger chooses a driver based on price, location and work history, and the two parties meet. As with Uber, drivers don't need to search for business, and passengers don't need to stand vainly on street corners.

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Oddjobber recently won first prize in the Fulbright Social Innovation Challenge 2014. And Khawaja is now testing the concept in Lahore, ahead of what he hopes will be a multi-city launch. As well as rickshaw drivers, the platform is also designed for farm hands, office workers and domestic laborers.

The service doesn't rely on GPS but is able to pinpoint bidders by triangulating their position from cell phone signals. The voice messages are designed for workers who can't read text and aren't comfortable writing long messages. To reply, they just need to write a number: "100" say, indicating "100 rupees."

Khawaja originally came up with the concept after getting into a car crash on the way to work. He was without a car for six months and learned how rickshaw drivers struggled to make ends meet. "I wanted to work on something not just for rickshaw drivers but for low-income workers in general," he says.

"But at the same time, it's helping passengers as well. It can take a long time to search for a rickshaw, and if you need to get somewhere quickly, that can make you anxious. This is more convenient for people."

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